How to conquer tone

Dear 3040 and Beyond:

I’m a new grad at a big firm and I think I’ve messed things up with my co-workers. They’ve been acting weird around me and my only office friend says I’ve been offending people in my emails. From my boss to my peers, it looks like I’ve made everyone mad. The thing is, I have no idea what kinds of stuff I could say in email that would piss people off! I’m a nice person and I haven’t had many problems like this before. Can you help?

Signed,

In Hot Water

———–

Dear in Hot Water,

I think that anyone would agree that it is really impressive that a recent grad like yourself already acquired a job at a big firm! So don’t get down on yourself too quickly, because there is a learning curve no matter where you end up going after college. Its good to get a poll of your work atmosphere from co-workers you feel like you can trust, but sometimes even friends can have a hard time being honest about what the real problem is exactly. They said your emails have been coming off as offensive, but there is always more to it than just that. Miscommunication through email is very common issue that people come across. It often comes down to something as simple as how people read the email in their head, or the tone.

So, what is tone? Tone refers to the perceived attitude of the writer by the reader. Basically, when you are reading an email someone sent you, in what tone of voice are the addressing you? Are they mad? Sad? Happy Excited? All of this can be inferred just solely on how an email is written. So the next logical question is, how do I make sure my documents have a suitable tone?

Two main points to consider for tone:

1) Who

2) What

 These are the baseline questions to consider, so lets break them down really quick. Who are you writing this email/document to? Knowing your audience is probably the most important thing to consider when writing a document because it helps you know exactly who you are addressing. For example, if you are addressing a co-worker then your tone can probably be more casual, whereas if you are addressing a team of board members who are considered superior in rank, then your tone should be respectful and mirror your status in the company.

After you have identified your audience, you need to decide what you want them to get out of your document. This is when the actual writing comes into play and when you need to figure out what type of tone you should use. No matter what, you should always convey confidence. I think this is a lot of times a no brainer for people, but it is easy to come off as overly confident, so make sure your proof-reading for this! Make sure you are being sincere and appropriate so that you can clearly show what the benefits are to your reader. And lastly, don’t make the wording too complicated. Unnecessary translation between reader and writer only causes frustration.

In the end, you want the tone of your emails to reflect as it would if it were in person. Address your audience appropriately and keep in mind how it may come off when read. This is a good way to ensure that you are not misperceived or come off as rude. Be genuine, but display confidence because being compelling without being too aggressive is important. Before we conclude, I want to address one last thing particularly relevant to your problem. A lot of people having the same problems as you forget to check their work for one last thing: conveying the benefits for the reader. As briefly stated above, this is a crucial part of keeping your audience invested and interested in what you are saying. If you can help them to see the greater goal and help them understand the benefit from all ends, the outcome can be much more quickly obtained! Hope these tips helped!

-Adrianna Marini

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2 thoughts on “How to conquer tone

  1. Hello Adrianna!
    I love how you started your post with reassurance that it is common to be misinterpreted in workplace writing and quickly followed with the problems that may lead to miscommunication. Defining tone early on allows the reader to clearly understand the basis of your blog post and your supporting information fully defines the steps the reader needs to take in order to master tone. I often get wrapped up in the small characteristics of tone, but I appreciate how you stated the 1) Who and 2) What are the most important points to consider when writing a professional email. As long as someone does their research and pays attention to both these questions, they are already set up for success. Overall your post flowed well and was easy to understand!

  2. I think you had a really strong voice throughout your post and I think that’s important with online writing. You were friendly and helpful without being condescending or arrogant. You had a warmth in your tone and I felt like you were pretty genuine throughout. I’m glad you talked about confidence especially since it seemed like the writer is a little shaken up. I think confidence is key in the corporate world and conveying that through emails is quite an asset to have. I’m glad you didn’t clutter the post with a bunch of different pieces of advice. You simplified it to just the who and the what, which are both crucial.

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